The 2021 Atlanta Braves were hardly a shocking World Series winner, although with an 88-73 record in the regular season, they weren't a powerhouse team in the vein of recent champions like the 2016 Cubs, 2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox or 2020 Dodgers. After all, the Braves had reached the 2020 NLCS and made the playoffs in 2018 and 2019.
What is surprising is what happened given where the Braves stood on July 30. After losing to the Brewers that night they were 51-54 and hadn't spent a single day over .500. They were, however, only five games behind the Mets in the National League East, so Alex Anthopoulos decided to act. After trading for Joc Pederson a couple weeks earlier to replace the injured Ronald Acuna Jr., Anthopoulos added three more outfielders on July 30, acquiring Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario.
All four contributed down the stretch, a struggling bullpen suddenly got hot, the Mets collapsed, Rosario won NLCS MVP honors and Soler captured the World Series MVP trophy -- and the Braves were champs for the first time since 1995.
So the question for 2022: Who can be this year's Braves? Which team can swing big like Anthopoulos did last year and make a World Series run?
There are a few candidates that we'll get to, but the clear favorite to pull it off is another NL East club, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies are a team that hasn't made the postseason since 2011 (believe it or not, the second-longest playoff drought behind the Mariners), a third-place team currently looking up at the Mets and Braves -- but a team with clear strengths and obvious problem places to upgrade. Dave Dombrowski has been an aggressive general manager throughout his career and this is a team in absolute win-now mode. No, they probably won't get hot enough to catch the Mets and win the division, but they can win a wild card and get hot in October.